The Other Side of Animation 233 – The Witcher: Nightmare of the Wolf Review

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(If you like what you see, you can go to camseyeview.biz to see more of my work on video game reviews, editorials, lists, Kickstarters, developer interviews, and review/talk about animated films. If you would like, consider contributing to my Patreon at patreon.com/camseyeview. It would help support my work, and keeps the website up. Thanks for checking out my work, and I hope you like this review!)


Heads up: I was able to watch this series before its recent release via a screener sent to me by Netflix. I got no other form of monetization other than the screener. Thank you, Netflix.

When a ton of different kinds of similar films come out in one year, you want to stand out and be able to stay on your own two feet against the competition. There is nothing worse than being the film that you reference in a negative way when you are comparing it to the film that may be similar but is the better option. This happens from time to time with certain years in animation. Why should anyone choose the subjectively weaker option, when you have something subjectively better offered to you? In this case, this year we have two different action fantasy films that take place in their respective franchises. You have the famous Demon Slayer: Mugen Train, which is the sequel film to the first season of the shonen action franchise, and now we have the prequel film to the Netflix live-action series, The Witcher with The Witcher: Nightmare of the Wolf. 


Directed by Kwang ll Han, written by Beau DeMayo, based on the book series by Andrej Sapkowski, and produced by the legendary Studio Mir, this is a prequel story that takes place decades ago before our lovely Geralt takes the mantle as the main character. So, what do we get instead of a story following a baby Geralt? Well, you should heighten your senses and get your silver sword ready for what I’m about to review. 

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Our main hero for this story is Vesemir, voiced by Theo James, an infamous swashbuckling Witcher and future mentor to the franchise’s main character Geralt. Vesemir is going about his days as a monster slayer, who is hated among monsters and humans alike. I mean, technically, no one likes Witchers and there has been tension among his kind due to the growing tension between humans, the dwindling number of monsters, and their futures. During one night, Vesemir encounters a truly unique version of a monster known as a Leshen, and that sets him off on his journey to find out exactly what is going on, who is behind these weird new experiments, and will he and his kind be able to survive?

So, with this being a prequel story to the main events of the TV series, how does it handle the overall story of Geralt’s mentor and his days as a younger Witcher? I think one decision that was well executed was the fact that you can pretty much sit down with this film and not have seen the live-action show or played the games, and get an understanding as to what the story is about, and the dark fantasy world in which they live. It has a sort of typical fantasy thriller experience, and you can understand who was behind what exactly, before the twists are revealed, but because the dialogue was this great mix of camp and charm, and the overall story is morally grey, it makes for a fun romp to experience. The world of The Witcher is dark, morally grey, and unforgiving. While I call Vesemir the hero of our story, he has some skeletons in his closet that make him a flawed hero. Like I said though, you are easily roped into the story as you do see the complexity of this world’s politics. What you find out about the origins of the Witchers isn’t great, but you can see their perspective in how one becomes a Witcher and how they try to survive in a world full of discrimination and hatred, and how that can corrupt anyone. Now, with all that said, the film knows it’s an action flick, and Vesemir, while having his serious and dry moments, is mouthy. He has some very action movie one-liners and is cocky, but in a fun way. He also has a sincere heart for himself and for the people he cares about. It results in a film full of some mild cynicism, but a lot of heart. It might have a script that can be a bit blunt at times with its commentary, but it never bothered me, and with some lessons and themes, it’s good to be blunt about certain things. Now, if you are wondering if you will ever see Geralt, you will, but don’t expect to see him in any real meaningful way. This is Vesemir’s story, and he’s a fun lead character. It’s one of the few prequel stories where I feel like it tells a good story that never made me think about “well, why should I care about anyone here since it’s a prequel?”. Anytime a prequel can make me say that, they are on my good side. 

Now, for the presentation, this is Studio Mir, and while the overall animation looks like a better-budgeted Avatar: The Last Airbender episode, it looks great. There is a reason why Studio Mir is a highly sought-after studio for action shows and why so many studios try to copy their direction in crafting visuals and action. There is a lot of slick action choreography and camera work to make this some of the best action seen this year. It’s a film with a ton of satisfying action and gore on screen that makes for a visceral, but fun romp! Since this is a film based on the Witcher series, you should also expect some pretty good music as well! It’s composed by Brian D’Oliveira who was a composer on games such as Sackboy: A Big Adventure, Journey to the Savage Planet, Shadow of the Tomb Raider, Resident Evil VII: Biohazard, Tearaway, and Papo & Yo. He brings this mix of European folk with some middle-eastern sounding tunes. The voice cast is also pretty good. You have Theo James as our lead character, Lara Pulver, Graham McTavish, Mary McDonnell, Tom Canton, David Errigo Jr., and Matt Yang King, to name a few of the actors seen in the film. The cast feels like they would fit right into either the live-action series or the third game. 

While I love this film overall, I do have some minor gripes. Tetra, while being a sinister villain, is not all that interesting. They fill the void with some literal last-minute backstory that connects her to an incident told offhand about the conniving nature of the Witchers. It’s not handled the best. The side characters also don’t leave an impression. You tend to forget their names, and they seem to be there to either fill out more of the world or to get killed. I think I would have liked to have seen them get fleshed out more. Maybe it’s because of the length of the film itself, but I would have loved this film to be two hours so you can give more time for the side characters to be expanded upon and to add more action. 

Even with the minor gripes, whether you are a fan of the franchise or not, The Witcher: Nightmare of the Wolf is a good fantasy action film that I think fans and newcomers can easily jump into with ease. Now, do I Like this more than Demon Slayer: Mugen Train? I think in some ways, Nightmare of the Wolf is better, but only because Mugen Train requires you to watch the first season to get the full enjoyment of the film. You don’t need to watch the Netflix Witcher series to enjoy Nightmare of the Wolf. Still, I”m happy to have so many action animated features this year, and I’ll be happy to see so many get made. Now then, I think it’s time to talk about a film that I meant to review a few months back, but, well, I wasn’t able to for one reason or another. It’s time we take a look at the Funimation exclusive The Stranger by the Shore

Thanks for reading the review! I hope you all enjoyed reading it! If you would like to support my work, make sure to share it out, and if you want to become a Patreon supporter, then you can go to patreon.com/camseyeview. I will see you all next time!




Rating: Go See It! 

The Other Side of Animation 215: Dota: Dragon’s Blood Review

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Heads Up!: I was able to view this early with a screener. Thank you, Netflix!

(If you like what you see, you can go to camseyeview.biz to see more of my work on video game reviews, editorials, lists, Kickstarters, developer interviews, and review/talk about animated films. If you would like, consider contributing to my Patreon at patreon.com/camseyeview. It would help support my work, and keeps the website up. Thanks for checking out my work, and I hope you like this review!)

Video games have always been notoriously difficult to translate into other mediums. There have been some success stories like the very first Tomb Raider, the original Mortal KombatDetective Pikachu, and to some degree, 2020’s Sonic the Hedgehog. Still, even with those few successes, it’s not like a lot of them couldn’t have been better. Even the better video game films still have flaws that raise them to mostly entertaining and not much else. Some video game films are just liked because of how bad they are. Some adaptations, however, do seem to put in the effort to trying to capture the magic, the lore, the characters, and so on behind the property, and don’t treat it like it’s another gig. However, one of the biggest challenges is to grab the attention of the viewers who are not familiar with the brand. If you can grab people who don’t play your game or read your book, then you should be on the right track. What direction does  Dota: Dragon’s Blood go into?

Based on the hit Valve series, specifically Dota 2, this “anime” series is created by Ashley Miller and produced by Ashley Miller, Ki Hyun Ryu, Eugene Lee, and Steven Melching. The show came off of the heels of 2020’s Dragon’s Dogma, which to many, was a failure of capturing that video game’s spirit. Luckily, one of the bigger selling points outside of being a show based on a popular video game, is that it was produced by Studio MIR, the same studio behind Avatar The Last Airbender, Netflix/DreamWorks Voltron, and helped out with the best cartoon of 2020, Kipo and the Age of Wonderbeasts. So, does the show succeed in being faithful and good to newcomers? Well, let’s pick up our dragon-slaying swords and take a look! 

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Our main story involves Davion, voiced by Yuri Lowenthal, a famed Dragon Knight, who, well, specializes in slaying dragons. After coming to the savior of a town in dire straits of getting attacked by a dragon, Davion and his cohort encounter a woman, well, a princess in hiding named Mirana, voiced by Lara Pulver. While making sure she and her compatriot get out of a situation at a bar, Davion then hears the word of the captain of the guards going deep into a pit where a supposed Eldwurm, basically a dragon that rules over others is hiding. As he finds the captain of the guards, Davion realizes an evil force known as Terrorblade, voiced by JB Blanc, has taken the captain over and wants to possess an Eldwurm known as Slyrak the Ember Eldwurm, voiced by the Candyman himself, Tony Todd. Davion and Slyrak defeat Terrorblade for now, but the fight leaves Slyrak in a dire condition. Davion decides to give him the warrior’s death, but Slyrak pulls a last-minute move and ends up bonding with Davion. Luckily for Mirana, she and her right hand find Davion in a forest at a later point with no memory of his actions. The three then go on an adventure to do a few things including helping get Davion his memory back and to get back these special lotus flowers that were stolen from Mirana. The plot gets even denser when the story gets entangled with a cult-like group, a sorcerer that lives in a hidden tower, and so much more. 

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Yeah, that is right off the bat, the biggest problem with this show. For the first eight episodes, they build up a very Game of Thrones-style world-building with it focusing on a few heroes from the game, but filling it up with heavy amounts of lore, backstories, and multiple plot threads going on all at the same time. It gets to be a touch overbearing. It has a much more interesting world than say, Netflix’s previous anime based on a fantasy video game, Dragon’s Dogma. While Dota does have a familiar fantasy setting, it’s not as rampantly sexist, misogynistic, or filled with flawed ideals like feudalism and slavery are a good idea, and redistribution of wealth to the poor is bad actually. Yeah, Dragon’s Dogma didn’t have a great story and these elements flew past me because of how boring Dogma was. Anyway, major elements that the show introduces early on are either pushed to the side until the last episode or are sidelined for other story beats. For example, Terrorblade only shows up in the first and last episode. When I got to the final episode of the first season, it hit me that this was a season made to set up everything for the next season more than make the first season more impactful. There are no real satisfying arcs for the main characters and it ends on a fairly annoying cliffhanger for a second season. 

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Now, this isn’t to say there weren’t any story beats or characters I liked, but when it feels like the story isn’t going anywhere, or is going down another side path instead of sticking to the main road, then it feels grating to binge. However, I do like the characters. While they might be the more familiar and safe characters to base a series on, they are more compelling and likable than a lot of dark fantasy show heroes like in Dragon’s Dogma, where Ethan is a fairly bland and unlikable lead character. I know it’s not fun or fair to drag another show through the mud because it subjectively failed, but no matter what criticisms I have for Dota: Dragon’s Blood, it does what Dogma should have but didn’t do. I like Davion as a typical male swordsman, Mirana is a solid level-headed archer, and her right hand Marci is the best character in the show. There seems to be a bit more energy put into the characters and they aren’t simply trying to be like Game of Thrones. I want to be around these characters, and when the show focused on the drama of said characters, you can understand their point of view of why they are doing what they are, well, doing. 

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Animation-wise, I think it was smart to get a studio like Studio MIR on board with this project. The combination of 2D and CGI for the larger monsters makes for some great animation. The action is well-executed, and the characters are very expressive. You can even get subtle little details through some of the more unique characters like Marci who is one of the most expressive characters who doesn’t even say a single word. The English dub is also pretty good. Doesn’t hurt that you have a stellar voice cast that includes Yuri Lowenthal, Josh Keaton, Lara Pulver, Tony Todd, Troy Baker, Kari Wahlgren, Freya Tingley, Stephanie Jacobsen, Anson Mount, and JB Blanc. The music composed by Dino Meneghin is solid, but I wouldn’t call it the most memorable soundtrack. It kind of has a Game of Thrones and familiar fantasy-sounding tunes, but they get the job done. 

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While flawed and a bit too ambitious for its first season, Dota: Dragon’s Blood is a solid fantasy action series. It has a small selection of interesting characters, a great voice cast, good action scenes, and an interesting lore-filled story. I’m not entirely sure if it’s loyal to the source material, but if you want something to raise your spirits after a lot of mediocre fantasy epics from recent years, this show is one of the better ones. I mean, you can argue it’s not great, but does your series have Tony Todd as a giant red dragon? Of course not. Next time, I have another screener for a Netflix film! You will have to wait and see what it is! 

Thanks for reading the review! I hope you all enjoyed reading it! If you would like to support my work, make sure to share it out, and if you want to become a Patreon supporter, then you can go to patreon.com/camseyeview. I will see you all next time!

Rating: Rent it!

The Other Side of Animation 185: Mortal Kombat Legends – Scorpion’s Revenge Review

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(If you like what you see, you can go to camseyeview.biz to see more of my work on video game reviews, editorials, lists, Kickstarters, developer interviews, and review/talk about animated films. If you would like, consider contributing to my Patreon at patreon.com/camseyeview. It would help support my work, and keeps the website up. Thanks for checking out my work, and I hope you like this review!)

You know, you would think I would tackle more video game adaptions in animation. Granted, the track record of good video game properties adapted to the world of animation is as shoddy as live-action attempts, but at the very least, animation takes away a lot of the limitations you get doing it in live-action. People in the entertainment industry might look down on animation for no reason, but with animation, while you may have to make everything by hand, it is not bound by physical limitations. The visual arts is a world with no boundaries, besides the ones you put on yourself. I mean, there is also time, money, manpower, but that’s beside the point. Today, we are taking a look at the newest film from the notoriously hyper-violent franchise, Mortal Kombat.

Today’s film, Mortal Kombat Legends: Scorpion’s Revenge, was directed by Ethan Spaulding and animated by Studio Mir. As mentioned above, it’s the newest film in the franchise since the disastrous Mortal Kombat Annihilation. Scorpion’s Revenge was released April 28th of this year to mostly positive reviews. So, do we have another video game disaster or do we have another video game hopeful? Well, let’s get over here and find out!

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So, the story revolves around Hanzo Hasashi aka Scorpion, voiced by Patrick Seitz. He’s on a mission to go after Bi-Han aka Sub-Zero, voiced by Steve Blum, who murdered his entire clan and family. After being sent to hell and making a deal with Quan Chi, voiced by Darin De Paul, Scorpion sets out to take down Sub-Zero, who will be attending an otherworldly fighting tournament hosted by Shang Tsung, voiced by Artt Butler. However, despite the film being called Scorpion’s Revenge, we also follow the story of three human fighters; Liu Kang, voiced by Jordan Rodriguez, Sonya Blade, voiced by Jennifer Carpenter, and Johnny Cage, voiced by Joel McHale. The three humans were chosen by the thunder god Raiden, voiced by Dave B Mitchell. Can Scorpion get his revenge, and can the humans save their realm from being taken over?

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So, let’s talk about the title of the film. Listen, I get it. Scorpion is pretty much the face of Mortal Kombat. However, the film is not really about him. Or at the very least, it’s not 100% about him. It’s one part Scorpion story, one part generic Mortal Kombat story, and one part universe starter. At first, the story focuses on him, but then the film also decides that it wants to be a franchise starter for a Mortal Kombat cinematic universe, so it has the three human leads who are unfortunately not all that interesting. It’s frustrating because while Scorpion is in the title and is what the film should focus on, Johnny Cage gets more of a focused storyline. Scorpion gets side-lined in his own movie. How much of the film is Scorpion in? Mostly, in the beginning, he vanishes for most of the middle part, and then stays in the third act. Because of this, the film has a real pacing issue throughout. The film spends a lot of time playing out like a normal MK storyline with the tournament, but then shuffles between the main characters, the villains, and shoving in cameos and fanservice appearances of certain characters. It even drops a plot twist 10 minutes before the film ends that lands like a lead balloon. It’s a real lopsided story, and it’s a shame because I do like the story when it actually follows Scorpion, and Johnny Cage, who, while annoying, was the most entertaining character in the film. It’s just a disappointment that this film isn’t really a Scorpion movie. There is a good story hidden in here. Even if it’s a typical revenge plot, this movie had more effort put into it than Annihilation did. Sadly, the focus went into the same mindset that the 2017 The Mummy went into, not to tell a single story, but to set up a bunch. This movie should be renamed Mortal Kombat Universe Pilot.

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The animation is where I also have some mixed feelings. It’s quite obvious that they went with an entirely different art style than trying to copy the style used in the major DC-animated features that WB puts out every year. The designs are more striking, and the characters look great. Sadly, this is a direct-to-video film under the Warner Animation Group collective. That means that while it’s nowhere near as bad looking as that 40-minute promo video that was made to promote the first film, it still suffers from having animation quality that’s basically on par with the DC TV series. Some scenes look fine, and then you can tell when they drop the frames of movements. However, with all that said, this film has some of the more striking visuals, and a lot of the gore and violence you play the games for. Mortal Kombat can have more story and more depth to their characters, but if you don’t have the gore, then what’s the point? I did like the action sequences that decided to have a little more money thrown into them because the action in this film is pretty stellar. I mean, it’s a film with martial arts and magic. If you fail at that, then what on earth are you doing? It’s like making lasagna without the creamy cheese, there is no point to it. I could complain about the film, but it nails the visuals. In terms of voice work, it’s good. It’s nothing groundbreaking, and they probably could have gotten someone other than Joel McHale, but the actors put in solid performances. You have people like Patrick Seitz, Kevin Michael Richardson, the always delightful Steve Blum, Grey Delisle, Dave B. Mitchell, Robin Atkin Downes, Jennifer Carpenter, Jordan Rodrigues, Ike Amadi, and Fred Tatasciore.

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This was a rough review to write. Not because the film was astronomically bad or a masterpiece that I was having trouble putting into words. It’s because this movie is okay. It’s probably the most okay movie of 2020. If it didn’t have the stellar action, the distinct visual style, and the gore, it would have probably been a decent if somewhat forgettable action film. It’s the second-best Mortal Kombat film, and so far, against what else is coming out, the best action film in the animation scene this year so far. I just hope this film did well enough to get a sequel, because the film itself leaves so much open for sequels that it isn’t funny. Honestly, if this film flops, then you wasted so many characters by focusing on the future film, and not the film you are currently making. Well, before I can get into the newest DC/WB animated feature that might cap off the entire storyline of the current animated film universe, let’s dive into another WB-focused film and hopeful universe starter with the newly released SCOOB!

Thanks for reading the review! I hope you all enjoyed reading it! If you would like to support my work, make sure to share it out, and if you want to become a Patreon supporter, then you can go to patreon.com/camseyeview. I will see you all next time!

Rating: Rent it!

Worst to Best Animated Films of 2018 Part 2

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(If you like what you see, you can go to camseyeview.biz to see more of my work on video game reviews, editorials, lists, Kickstarters, developer interviews, and review/talk about animated films. If you would like, consider contributing to my Patreon at patreon.com/camseyeview. It would help support my work, and keeps the website up. Thanks for checking out my work, and I hope you like this editorial/list!)

Okay, we are now onto part 2 of the Worst to Best of 2018, and we will be going through the next couple of films on my list. If you haven’t seen part 1, please go back and see which films were on the bottom. Now then, let’s get started!

 

34. Tehran Taboo

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The first few films on this list are going to be in the category of “flawed, but ambitious”. Tehran Taboo definitely has its share of topics to talk about that include sex, religion, and the commentary about life in that country. However, while I’m usually down for a film to be an experience, I found this one to be a tough pill to swallow, and it was sort of boring. I don’t really remember much outside of the themes and the rotoscoped visual style. Still, it’s an interesting film to check out if you are looking for something more adult in your animation.

33. Bilal

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I didn’t know what to expect from this American/Arabic production from Parajoun Entertainment, but I was impressed. For a foreign feature, the CGI is rather impressive for the context of where it is from. I also like how it’s a grand epic adventure based on a real life individual. However, the problems come into play with the pacing. It looks like it wanted to go through the entire life of Bilal, but couldn’t pace it well to make sense. Huge spans of time jump forward constantly in the film, and we are introduced to many characters that don’t get much development. Also, while the goal of more realistic designs is admirable, sometimes the uncanny valley sets in, and some designs look more awkward than others. Still, I hope the studio behind this film can find support to keep making films if they are this ambitious.

32. Sgt. Stubby

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I feel badly that this film didn’t do better. Granted, its tone and not up-to-par animation didn’t help things, but a family film set in World War I is quite a risky endeavor. Yes, it’s not an “incredible” film, and it was never going to go full-tilt mature in tone to tackle one of history’s biggest wars, but the fact they were able to do this in the first place is something I can fully respect. It even takes time to let the characters talk, and it’s not just focused on the dog in question being adorable. It’s not perfect, and I can’t find myself really watching this one again, but once again, it’s at least different than most animated features.

31. Batman: Gotham by Gaslight

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Who wouldn’t love a legit Batman film where it’s set in an alternative history where he takes down Jack the Ripper? For the most part, I enjoyed the character chemistry between Bruce and Selina, and when they can let the ominous atmosphere and slight horror elements set in, it’s quite an eerie watch. Sadly, the entire reason this film is on this part of the list is because of the current animation style that is used for these direct-to-video films. Instead of putting more money into trying to copy the comic’s unique Mike Mignola art-style, it looks like every other generic DC-animated feature around, which really sucks. It’s one of the biggest opportunities that has been wasted on such a cool film. Maybe in a decade or so, we will get an actual big-budget take on this comic’s storyline that can deliver on the horror.

30. Suicide Squad: Hell to Pay

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I have reviewed this one already, and even though I have watched it three times, my opinions never changed about it. It has good action, good chemistry, and a few fun dark comedic moments and a nice Grindhouse-vibe, but the story’s tone is all over the place. It never felt like it had a true idea of what they wanted the entire story to be, and while I love the twist with who the real villain of the film is, it does raise some questions about previous DC film tie-ins. Still, it’s one of the better DC features that you can get, and I can understand why people enjoyed this one.

29. The Death of Superman Part 1

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While there are a lot of flaws with this story, like how they had to pretzel the story to fit the comic that this two-parter is based on, and some of the characters don’t feel like they add much to the story, when it actually focuses on Doomsday and Superman, it’s a lot of fun. It has some of the better action animation out of the DC films. You just feel the brutal strikes that the two give each other, and it actually made me care about Superman. Granted, the biggest flaw of this film is that it’s a two-parter that ruined not only this film’s story, but also killed the concept of death permanently in comics. Still, I recommend this and part 2.

28. The Grinch

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Now, if I was just including theatrical animated features only, this one would be lower on the list, but out of all of the animated features, this one fits perfectly in the mid-area of the list. It has beautiful animation, whimsical visuals, and a decent Grinch character. It might not be able to fully complete the themes that it introduces, but it’s so harmless that I find it the least offensive of Illumination’s films. It also has a nice ending, and it actually makes Cindy Lou endearing. It’s another Illumination Entertainment picture, but I wouldn’t mind seeing this one again.

27. Hells

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Yes, this movie’s plot is a huge mess, it overstays its welcome, and it feels like a lot of the characters don’t have any personality, but the animation for this film is so wild. It’s vibrant and wildly creative with its designs and what hell looks like. While you can obviously see where most of the money gets put into the flick, it’s a passion project that I can get behind.

26. Big Fish & Begonia

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To me, this is China’s first official foot in the door of serious animation fare. It’s beautiful, it has complex themes, and while the story is a bit bloated and has way too many characters and things going on, you do feel for the two main characters. The voice cast is great, the visuals are some of the most unique, and interesting out of an animated feature, and if you want to be supportive of these types of Chinese features, please check this film out.

25. Hotel Transylvania 3

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Now then, we are getting into the films that I think are pretty good. While the franchise as a whole is inconsistent, I think this is the best one, because it knows how to handle its characters, the jokes were funnier, the animation was great, and it had more of a plot on which to focus. Then again, when it’s all being directed and written by Genndy Tartakovsky, then that makes sense as to why it’s the best film in the franchise. I had a great time with this flick, and while some of the side characters don’t have too much to do, they are, like this movie, highly entertaining.

24. Satellite Girl and Milk Cow

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While this may not be South Korea’s first animated feature, it’s one of the first to get a major US release, and while it may have the same issue as Chinese animation with not being wholly original in the story department, it uses some jokes that aren’t all that funny, and the animation might not fully be up to par, I still found it an earnest and enjoyable fairytale-style film. The animation is pretty solid, and the physical comedy with Satellite Girl is actually really funny. Any time she shows off her robot girl gimmicks, the jokes are great. It’s an oddball film, but I like well-executed oddball films, and I think people should see it!

The Other Side of Animation 140: Big Fish & Begonia Review

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In the span of a few years, China has started to throw its hat into the ring of animation. They have now made it a goal to not just be the country other countries use for their animation, or the creator of a flood of mediocre features. While The Monkey King: Hero is Back was a good first step, I would hardly call it a good movie. The true first step for the country would come in the form of an animated feature that came out back in 2016, but finally got a release here in the states, Big Fish & Begonia. This unique and important title was the passion project behind the directors, Liang Xuan and Zhang Chun. It was based on a Chinese Taoist story called Zhuangzi, but apparently drew from other Chinese classic tales as well. After going through up to over a decade of financial troubles of getting funding, spending it, and lack of animation talent, the film was finally finished. It was picked up by Shout! Factory last year, and was a feature that people payed major attention to during film festivals, including being one of the big features of the Animation is Film Festival. So, was a decade of development worth the hype and final product? Well, let’s check it out.

The story follows Chu, dubbed by Stephanie Sheh. She is a 16 year-old girl who lives in a world that lies on the other side of the human world’s ocean. It’s full of powerful individuals and spirits. Chun has to go through a rite of passage, and venture into the human world as a red dolphin. While in the human world, Chun is smitten by a human male named Kun, dubbed by Todd Haberkorn. After a few days swimming around, Chun gets caught inside a fishing net, and Kun tries to save her. Luckily, he gets her out, but ends up drowning in the process. Feeling guilty as all get-out about Kun dying, Chun ends up going to a place called the Island of Souls to try and bring Kun back. She offers the caretaker, Ling Po, dubbed by JB Blanc, half of her life to bring Kun back. After that, she spends the next chunk of her life taking care of Kun as he grows bigger, and makes sure he can go back to the human world. The bad news is that while Kun is there, the world that she lives in is in major peril. Can she make sure Kun gets back alive? What is she willing to sacrifice to make sure that happens?

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A problem I see with many passion projects that take a good decade or so to fully complete is that the creators try to shove in too much into the film, and never think about cutting certain story elements, or redoing some of the script. Of course, animation can be a huge endeavor, and making changes on the fly can be costly, but you can run the risk of making the film feel too busy, bloated, and or unfocused. Unfortunately, a lot of the problems with Big Fish & Begonia is that there is too much going on. Much of the film is Chun’s relationship with Kun, and her learning about life, death, sacrifice, and the consequences to certain actions, but they shove in a lot of characters, and a lot of time spent with Chun over vast landscapes. I’ll admit, many of the logical issues I keep questioning throughout my time watching the film are probably more of a cultural thing, and how the film wants to be more of a fairy tale. However, how far can you go with those kinds of defenses until they become too distracting? How much homework does one need to do on Chinese culture to fully understand the magical logic used in the film? It shouldn’t turn into a homework project to fully get what’s going on, and who everyone is. I don’t mind learning about the culture, but the film should be explaining to me visually what’s going on. For example, there is this rat woman who is an obvious threat, but you don’t get why she wants to go to the human world, and you don’t see her again after a certain period of time. I mean, yes, you can tell by her design and the way she interacts with everyone, that she is a threat, but why? I also get that having Kun stay in their world brings upon a lot of damage and danger, but why? Why does having a human spirit cause such chaos? The story also goes at a rather fast pace. It’s not a truly horrible thing, but I think the film’s atmosphere and emotional investment would have been stronger if they let some time pass between certain moments. While Studio MiR, the same studio behind Avatar: The Last Airbender and Netflix’s Voltron series, has some breathtaking animation done for Big Fish & Begonia, its use of CGI is definitely distracting. It’s not as bad as, say, Blue Submarine No. 6, but you can always tell when it’s CGI. It becomes more distracting when you see the giant flying whales that look like something out of that Fantasia 2000 short.

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With all that said, Big Fish & Begonia has great elements in its overall package. Like I said above, the animation is gorgeous. The backgrounds are awe inspiring, the designs are whimsical, the movements are fluid, and it’s an incredible visual feast for the eyes. You can tell there was a heavy dose of passion throughout this entire film’s visual presentation. It’s an incredible treat for the eyes that you need to see on the biggest screen you can. I even regret not seeing this one when it came out in my neck of the woods! As for the dub, I have seen both the original with subtitles, and the dub that Funimation helped out with. I think the cast is pretty stellar that includes actors such as Stephanie Sheh, Johnny Yong Bosch, Todd Haberkorn, JB Blanc, Cindy Robinson, Yuri Lowenthal, Greg Chun, Kate Higgins, Kyle Hebert, Erika Ishii, and Cam Clarke. The music by Kiyoshi Yoshida is full of that Chinese flair. It’s fantastical, mystical, and epic when needed. You might have heard of his name and his music if you have seen The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, where he did the soundtrack for that film. Another strong element is the relationship between Chun, Kun, and Chun’s friend Qui, dubbed by Johnny Yong Bosch. Most of the time you see Chun and Kun together is done with very little dialogue. The visuals tell the story, which, you know, is sort of important in a visual medium like animation.

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Big Fish & Begonia might be a bit of a mess, but it’s an important film for China and the Chinese animation scene. If you watch the trailers or clips, and you think you would like this film, I definitely recommend checking it out. It’s an impressive start, and I hope that means that other 2D animated projects that are going on over in China, can start raising the bar as time goes on. Well, after this, I definitely need something a bit zanier, a bit more focused, and maybe something that can make the night go on forever. Next time, we are going to check out Masaaki Yuasa’s other hit film, The Night is Short, Walk on Girl. Thank you for reading! I hope you enjoyed the review, and I will see you all next time!

Rating: Go See It!